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Allegations of Abuse of Power and Conflict of Interest Against Alameda Hospital’s Dr. Robert Deutsch

Last week, Action Alameda News received a copy, for publication, of a letter, below, addressed to the Alameda Health Care District Board of Directors. Action Alameda News tried to reach Dr. Robert Deutsch of Alameda Hospital for comment but we’ve not yet received a response.

In January of this year, in an unrelated story, Action Alameda News reported that Dr. Deutsch was the subject of a conflict-of-interest complaint and investigation.

Dear Ms. Battani and fellow board members:

I am writing to express serious concern regarding the conduct of one of your members, Dr. Robert Deutsch. I think these concerns could have a negative impact on the reputation of the hospital and its future growth, especially of the sub-acute program.

I am currently the medical director of the Alameda Health Care Sub Acute unit. I have held that position since 2002 when I helped form the unit under previous owners of the facility. During the years since then the facility has garnered an outstanding reputation for quality care to a challenging group of patients and families. On March 30th with no warning whatsoever I received a call from Shirley Ma, the facilities administrator notifying me that she was giving me notice that my role as medical director was being terminated and that a new contract was being put in place, at a much higher salary, to Dr. Deutsch. While this is certainly the prerogative of the owner, Mr. Aaron Robin, Ms. Ma made it clear that this was completely unrelated to any medical issue but was strictly driven by business and financial issues.

The issue actually goes deeper and this is where the hospital may be impacted. Mr. Robin has made it clear that it is his intent to forge a relationship with the hospital. This includes an arrangement that would allow the hospital to expand its sub acute into the Alameda Care center building. This would increase his daily per patient reimbursement by a very significant amount. Expansion of the Alameda Hospital sub acute is a goal that has been affirmed by Deborah Stebbins in a conversation I had with her shortly after this situation unfolded. But this requires dealings between Mr. Robin, Ms. Stebbins and the board, which includes of course Dr. Deutsch. Dr. Deutsch and his group stand to gain enormously from this relationship with a large salary plus the ability of a single group to bill each patient they see twice, once as providing general medical coverage and once as a pulmonary consultant. Thus my replacement by this board member will serve to provide him personally with hundreds of thousands of dollars in direct benefit. Dr. Deutsch has been accused before of a conflict of interest but this seems much more flagrant. In his defense of himself the last time he is quoted as saying it is not a conflict if he is paid approximately the same as others in this same position but that is clearly not the case here. Here we have a physician who has indicated he has little regard for doctor patient relationships and is willing to pursue what the medical society and medical board might view as unethical tactics to “poach” patients and increase his income.

Dr. Deutsch and his partners actually attempted to come in on April 1st and tried to bully the administrator and staff and indicated that they wanted to take over care of all of the patients immediately. There was no initial attempt at any transition or professional respect shown. Most important, there was an attempt to undermine the patient doctor relationship that I have with the patients of the sub acute and with their families and loved ones, with no regard to the medical issues or impact this might have. I spoke with Mr. Robin, regarding this. He apologized for the initial attempt that Dr. Deutsch made and assured me that he was not trying to force me out and that I would continue to care for my existing patients. He reiterated the fact that this was a business decision. Since then Dr. Deutsch has apparently been counseled that he needed to take a less aggressive approach, but he has voiced his intent to take over patients as soon as he can.

As I understand his expressed strategy, when patients are transferred to Alameda Hosp. on occasion for an acute event, it is his intent to persuade the family to change care to his group even after they return from the hospital to the sub acute. Thus he is using his position as a hospital care provider to undermine my relationship with the patients and their families at a time when they are usually most vulnerable and anxious. This is a flagrant abuse of power and certainly not in the best interest of these compromised individuals. While he may try to sell this as providing continuity of care, it is a specious argument at best. As I am sure you are all aware, most hospitals, including Alameda, make use of hospitalists to provide in hospital care with the help of specialty consultants. Upon discharge these patients are always returned to their primary doctors. In this case and with long standing patients in the sub acute, we serve as their primary care givers, not physicians who may know them for as little as a day, where we often have been caring for them and dealing with their families for years. Imagine how Dr. Deutsch and his partners, who do primary care, would react if the hospitalist group decided to do out-patient or sub acute care on his patients after discharge. If “poaching” patients is a practice going on in Alameda Hospital it may give cause for hesitation of other doctors to send their patients there as well.

With this concern over my patients being approached by Dr. Deutsch and his group and persuaded to switch care I am now reluctant to allow any of my patients who may require acute care for a period of time to go to Alameda Hospital. I am prepared to refer them to other high quality facilities, including Summit where I have been on staff for 35 years, and where I and other physicians don’t have to worry about such unethical tactics, resulting in a loss of admissions to Alameda.

I also would like to know what mechanism is used to select Dr. Deutsch as director of Respiratory Services and your current Sub-acute unit for a total of over $100,000 a year. I have been a director of Respiratory Services at a much larger and busier facility and never received a salary of $84,000. In fact in these economic hard times and with a hospital struggling to survive financially it seems a bit outrageous that his salary remains so high. As a pulmonologist practicing in Alameda and as a resident, business owner and tax payer in Alameda I think this kind of special consideration needs to be examined. I would like to know when those contracts will come up for bid so that I may enter the bidding process, especially for the sub acute program since I have so much experience with a much larger program. I would also like to understand the rental of office space at what seems like a sub-market rate, again in the context of a hospital trying to increase revenue.

It is disappointing to find a colleague with such avarice that he is willing to ignore patient issues, abuse the power of his position and show a complete lack of collegial respect. It is the very thing that has made medicine and physicians the subject of so much ill will. If the hospital wishes to have a successful relationship with the Alameda Care Center Dr. Deutsch’s role there and at the hospital and the personal financial benefit he accrues as a result has to be questioned.

Sincerely,

Jerrold A. Kram, MD
FCCP, FAASM

6 comments to Allegations of Abuse of Power and Conflict of Interest Against Alameda Hospital’s Dr. Robert Deutsch

  • Barb

    Avarice? Dr. Deustch? Thank goodness someone from the medical community has come along to validate the concerns of lay persons that Deutsch’s main interest is lining his pockets with 30 pieces of silver.

    The Alameda Hospital has been run by an incestuous management/board, with competent medical treatment not the highest concern. Its graduates: Tam and Bonta have moved on to continue their disloyal representation at even higher levels of government. This is what happens when the authorities turn a blind eye to outrageous illegal behavior. When these people are not prosecuted, their behavior appears validated. They gain courage and escalate their greed. Those needing objective and expert medical treatment are disserved in the interest to shift the money to their cronies. And we the taxpayer have to subsidize this malarky?

    I think it is time for Gov. Code Sec. 1090 to trigger a suit for treble damages by the taxpayers against this kind of action. Our elected officials, and our new City Manager, promote such illegal activity through their own actions and inaction on this matter.

  • Beyond time, Barb. I’m with you and Dr. Kram on this. How do we proceed?

    Alameda Hospital is not a quality facility and doctors (like Deutsch) aren’t getting enough work, hence the poaching. In addition, Stebbins is lying to us all by saying they can treat strokes. The place needs to be re-purposed before it does more harm, and the hospital board needs to hold the citizens of Alameda as it’s chief customer, not Robert Deutsch and the doctors of Alameda Hospital. What a hour of card that place is.

    I wonder – does Dr. Kram know how to file a conflict of interest complaint with the state? With the medical licensing board? I hope so, and I hope he does.

  • DHL

    Dr. Deutsch is way worse than we imagine it’s possible to be—all Alamedans assume the best despite what is, and has been, right before their very eyes. Too many think, oh, it can’t be what it looks like. Well it can. It is. And worse. Documentation of Dr. Deutsch’s lifetime campaign of deliberate, self-serving, unethical influence on Alameda’s medical services and organizations can be found dating back to the early 1980s.

    I urge everyone reading this Letter to make a formal complaint with the State Medical Board and the FPPC (Fair Political Practices Commission)—in writing, using your name (not anonymous). We all need to come together if we’re going to take back our hospital resources for the good of all Alamedan residents out of the hands of the few incestously perpetuating the substandard medical care and culture!

    FPPC complaint form: http://www.fppc.ca.gov/enforce/complaint_form.1.pdf

    In the state of California, there are separate state agencies for doctors, for nurses, and for hospitals. We have to report each separately.

    Here’s the information for reporting doctors:

    The Medical Board of California: http://www.medbd.ca.gov/consumer/complaint_info.html
    See the link on that page for the Consumer Complaint Form, a PDF file that you download.

    We can also phone for information:
    Central Complaint Unit
    California toll-free line: 1-800-633-2322
    Phone: (916) 263-2382

    Complaints should be mailed to:
    Medical Board of California
    Central Complaint Unit
    2005 Evergreen Street, Suite 1200
    Sacramento, CA 95815

    Verify a doctor’s medical license status and any complaints: http://www2.mbc.ca.gov/LicenseLookupSystem/PhysicianSurgeon/Search.aspx

  • DHL

    And I urge everyone to write down your own horror story that you’ve experienced at Alameda Hospital and post it in a Note on ‘Dangerous Incompetence – Alameda Hospital’, a facebook group: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Dangerous-Incompetence-Alameda-Hospital/158965830780910?sk=notes

  • […] See Dr. Jerrold A. Kram’s Letter exposing Dr. Deutsch’s latest grandiose scheme to yet again abuse our local medical organizations and doctor-patient relationships here. […]

  • alameda vigilante

    What is “Alameda Health Care Sub-Acute unit”? Is it the same as “Alameda Care center”? Sub-acute simply means between acute & chronic. If its what I think it is, it’s a nursing home. Please be more clear.

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